Microsoft reveals accessibility goals for Windows 10 and Office 365

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Friday, 19 February 2016 14:12pm

Tech giant Microsoft has revealed its roadmap of accessibility features to be introduced in Windows 10 and Office 365 over the course of 2016. The announcement comes after a number of public statements outlining an increased commitment to inclusion of people with disabilities in its product offering and services.

Laptop running Windows 10

Microsoft’s Chief Accessibility Officer, Jenny Lay-Flurrie, revealed in a blog post today that the company has used feedback from its Disability Answer Desk and partners to deliver better experiences combining access and productivity. With regards to Microsoft’s improved focus on inclusion, Lay-Flurrie provided the following statement:

“Accessibility is top of mind at Microsoft when we think about living our mission. In the past few months, we have outlined commitments that will guide our progress as a company and announced a number of organizational investments to make our products more accessible and better serve people with disabilities. I know I speak for the entire accessibility leadership team at Microsoft when I say that we’re excited about the journey ahead.”

Microsoft’s accessibility goals in 2016 regarding the Windows 10 operating system and Office 365 suite are as follows:

Windows 10

  • Improve commonly used features and do a great job with showcase Windows experiences. We are working to ensure that everyone can easily access and use the Start menu, the lock screen, and settings as well as Cortana, Store, Music, Videos and more.
  • We’re also working hard on our new browser, Microsoft Edge. By the end of 2016, the browser will have improved browsing and reading experiences not just for those using our built-in assistive technologies, such as Narrator and Magnifier, but also for people who use other commercial assistive technology. On Feb. 3, we shared our priorities for 2016, including additional detail about the key areas that we think will have the biggest impact.
  • Windows 10 Mail will have improved screen-reader support for common email scenarios – already, we’ve made progress against these goals on Mail for PCs.
  • Work continues to improve our built-in assistive technology by increasing performance, reliability, compatibility and usability. These improvements translate to a faster Narrator, improved compatibility while using apps like Windows 10 Mail and Microsoft Word, better mapping of keyboard commands to user expectations and an increase in the number of supported languages.

Office 365

  • Making it easier to author accessible content from any device. In 2016, we will be extending the Accessibility Checker (already available in Office for PCs) to Office for Mac and improving the experience with alt-text in Office Online.
  • Making it easier to use Office 365 with screen readers and keyboards on any device. Last year, we added support for VoiceOver for Office for Mac and this year, we will be adding full accessibility support for all our Windows 10 store apps.
  • Enhancing the experience with our apps in High Contrast Mode. For example, we will make it easy to read commands and navigate through controls in Office for PC.
  • Introducing new reading and writing tools that are particularly beneficial for people with dyslexia. In January, we introduced a preview of Learning Tools in OneNote for PC that will be generally available in 2016. We are also working on improving spelling checker in Word 2016 and Outlook 2016 to offer suggestions for phonetic and other less commons misspellings.
  • Enabling everyone to use our applications in more intuitive ways. We introduced “Tell Me what you want to do…” in Office Online and Office 2016 for PCs to help people get things done quickly or get help by entering intuitive commands. We will be extending this capability to Office on iOS and Android in 2016.

The new inclusive features are based on three guiding principles, covering transparency in the company’s commitment to share plans and ensure accessibility, accountability to prioritise inclusive design and inclusivity to think about ways to empower people through technology.

The blog post also notes that there will be more to come, including “building out accessibility features” in existing products and services in future. Feedback on these developments is encouraged via the Microsoft’s Accessibility Feedback forum.

Update: Microsoft's Office 365 team have outlined further accessibility developments to expect in 2016, via a new blog post on the Office Blogs website.

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